City leaders discuss allowing public comments at meetings
by David Lazenby
Jan 17, 2012 | 1662 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Due to some contentious issues that have come before the Jasper City Council recently, the officials recently discussed the extent for which the Council should accommodate concerned citizens who wish to have their comments included on Council meeting agendas.

During a work session held Thursday, the Council discussed an individual who requested to be on the agenda for today’s meeting to comment on the smoking ordinance the city approved in October.

More recently, the board voted again on the matter after several city bar owners complained that the law that prevents smoking in their establishments is shrinking their profits and threatening their businesses.

Councilors Johnny Rollins and Lee Swann voted for an amendment to the smoking ordinance at a Jan. 3 council meeting while Councilors Morris Studdard, Sandi Sudduth and Gary Cowen voted against it.

The amendment would have allowed business owners to decide whether or not to allow their patrons to smoke.

“To let him get on the agenda to discuss the smoking ordinance — that’s over,” Mayor Sonny Posey said during Thursday’s work session.

Because city officials receive comments from audience members at the end of each Jasper City Council meeting, Cowen said he doesn’t mind having the local political activist, Bill Cleghorn, included on the agenda.

The Council has a policy that the officials shall take no action based on the remarks made during the public comments portion of the meetings.

When asked about the matter, Jasper city attorney Russ Robertson said, “We don’t have to let anyone speak at all. The First Amendment does not require that. They can speak, but they are not entitled to an audience at our expense.”

On the other hand, he said regulating public speakers at the meeting can be “a slippery slope.”

Robertson said, “If you are going to allow any (public comments), you can’t discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.”

Cleghorn’s concerns about the smoke-free ordinance is on the agenda for today’s meeting that will begin at 10 a.m. on the second floor of Jasper City Hall.

Cleghorn, who gathered signatures to a petition that seeks to put a ban on the sale of tobacco in the city of Jasper to a vote, has attended several Council meetings and work sessions in recent months to express his point of view about the city’s smoking ordinance.

Cleghorn is particularly critical of a section of the ordinance that pertains to smoking in private clubs.